His use of the moral force of his office is seen as a major contribution to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. He chided Fidel Castro's ideology even as the diehard Marxist looked on and has warned against what he sees as the excessive greed of Capitalism.
John Paul's II dogmatic opposition to women priests and birth control has angered liberal factions of the Church. The crowds however do not seem to mind.
"At the moment its magnificent what he does -- people applaud, they like it but they are not going to follow it," says John Wilkins, Editor of the Catholic newspaper The Tablet.
"It's the singer and not the song -- the task for the next Papacy is to produce a song that people will also sing as well as admiring the person who sings it."
But the frail Pope is not ready for the final act yet. Whatever physical toll the last twenty years may have taken, the Pope's spirit, Vatican insiders say, is as strong as ever. John Paul II is driven by an iron determination to lead the Catholic Church into its third millennium.
He routinely works 18 hours a day rising before dawn for a half hour of prayer.
"I think the Holy Father draws his energy from prayer," says Archbishop Foley. "From his conversation with God, and he also draws energy from crowds especially when there are young people there"
In the Vatican, word has it that the man who glories in the title Vicar of Christ is looking well beyond the millennium.